In the mid 17th Century England was divided by a bitter Civil War caused by a power struggle between King Charles 1st and Parliament.
Colchester became a focus of the final phase of the conflict in 1648 with the arrival of a Royalist force under the leadership of Sir George Lisle and Sir Charles Lucas. Behind them came Lord Fairfax in command of a section of the New Model Army, who laid siege to the town for eleven long, wet, cold weeks.
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The Siege of Colchester
The citizens of Colchester became pawns in a lethal battle. From outside the town walls they were fired on, inside they were starved. There is no accurate tally of the victims but it is certain that hundreds of townspeople died along with the soldiers from both sides. To escape starvation it is said that the townsfolk were reduced to eating cats, rats and mice.
After the inevitable surrender, the Royalist commanders, Lucas & Lisle, were executed by firing squad outside the castle. Colchester was left with its buildings in ruins, its cloth trade disrupted and it walls breached
The scars from the siege can still be seen in many places, including the ruins of St Botolph's Priory, St. Martin's Church and the tower of St Mary at the Walls Church, all damaged by cannon fire. At the Siege House at the bottom of East Hill there are bullet holes from a battle, and large sections of the town wall have been rebuilt in brick.
Less than twenty years after the Siege, Colchester was hit by the Great Plague. More than 4000 Colcestrians, over half the town's population, died in the worst epidemic in modern England, but once again Colchester made a remarkable recovery from disaster.